He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic 6.8)
This is a big word.
You can tell that because the English versions translate it with different English words:
- Mercy (KJV, NKJV, GW, NLT)
- Kindness (ASV, NASB95, ESV, NIV, LEB, RSV)
- Compassion (AMP)
- Faithfulness (CSB, NET)
- Love (GNT)
- “Be compassionate and loyal in your love” (MSG)
In the OT, it’s a significant character trait of God, which the KJV translates multiple ways in its 231 occurrences:
In fact, it’s the most common biblical statement about God: “His mercy endures forever.”
One scholar defined the Hebrew word this way:
“A beneficent action performed, in the context of a deep and enduring commitment between two persons or parties, by one who is able to render assistance to the needy party who in the circumstances is unable to help him—or herself.”
One of my theology professors put it more concisely:
“Steadfast, loving loyalty.”
Several concepts going on here:
- There’s a relationship between the two parties.
- This relationship is grounded in love.
- The person showing “mercy” is fiercely devoted to being loyal to the relationship, no matter what.
- This loyalty issues in action that benefits the person in need.
Looks like the way The Message renders it, as noted above, is the best of the bunch: “Be compassionate and loyal in your love.”
I suppose that you could say, then, that “mercy” is the opposite of apathy.
- It’s the opposite of saying, “Sorry, but I have other things to do right now.”
- It’s the opposite of saying, “It’s your own fault.”
- It’s the opposite of saying, “I told you so.”
It’s living out James 2:15-17—
15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
We’re to love mercy.
We’re to look for problems that others are facing, and to commit ourselves to helping them solve those problems, no matter how much time and energy and money it takes, because we love them.
I’m not naturally like that, and I suspect you aren’t either.
I find it helpful to meditate on the ways God has shown this kind of loving commitment to me.
- He’s given me life, in a world designed to support life profusely and lavishly.
- He’s brought me under the sound of the gospel, through extraordinary circumstances.
- He’s poured out spiritual blessings in abundance on his unfaithful son.
Someone has said that the fact that God has forgiven us obligates us to forgive others—for how could anyone have sinned against us more grievously than we have sinned against God?
How could we possibly show “mercy” to someone else more purely and deeply and intensely and completely than God has shown mercy to us?
May we all pay attention—on the prowl, searching, seeking for people who need help—and render help in ways that are sacrificial and truly effective.
And may we love it.